Balam Acab Balam AcabWander / Wonder
TRI ANGLE RECORDS The few people who have met Alec Koone describe him as a shy young man, not prone to sharing his thoughts; introverted and sensitive. Some of that spirit between defeated and lyrical could be felt on “See Birds EP”, his first 12” for the then recently created Tri Angle Records, and on “Wander / Wonder”, the same feeling is multiplied and reinforced with a precious, seldom seen tour de force. The album debut of Balam Acab bares some similarity to Burial, or rather, to the interior effect Burial caused when listened to for the first time, your stomach left cramped up and your heart shrunken. The similarities are spiritual rather than aesthetic, they open the door to a similar dimension of beautiful sound, although one operates via dubstep and the long British rave tradition and the other through R&B and pop (though with a similar use of vocals, always taking good care of the mood in the tracks).
The thing that sets Balam Acab apart, the music he makes, is mostly appreciated on “Motion”, a soul fantasy (with generous strings at the end) drenched in watery ambient on which vocal sets in the vein of TLC and Aaliyah float. It's moments like these that show that his musical education (apart from the classes he takes at Ithaca university in New York – the man is only 20 years old) must have consisted of many hours listening to the hip-hop stations and taking note of those golden voices and the more futurist beats (we can't even begin to imagine the look on his face when L’Oreal chose one of his tracks as the music for a mascara ad featuring Beyoncé). But that's only a part of the admirable whole that is “Wander / Wonder”, as any style or limit is diluted in an astonishing flood of textures.
The water reference isn't coincidental. Balam Acab is a name taken from figures from Mayan mythology, as described in the Popol Vuh; Balam-Quitzé and Balam-Acab, two of the corn men who helped the earth to be fertile and generous after the big flood sent by the god Hurakan. In fact, Koone chose the stage name Balam Acab because of its close relation with rain (on “Still”, one of the four bonus tracks on the special edition of the album, available only at the Rough Trade stores, the sound of water is crucial), and the eight tracks on the standard edition album flow and adapt to all forms, as if they were a liquid torrent of synthesisers, vocals and rhythm boxes.
It makes it hard to pinpoint “Wander / Wonder”. It's not hip-hop, nor R&B, but it does have some of both styles' features. Witch house, the scene both Koone and Tri Angle come from, is no longer the right label for this music. The only thing that is maintained is the transparent texture and the tense calm, which makes Balam Acab a singular ambient producer (he just wants to present himself as an electronic music producer and nothing more) who is integrating flashes of a wide range of genres, from opera to grainy dub. If we start with “Welcome”, some false beats sound which actually are sound eruptions that form a sinuous rhythm, very much like the dragging dub on the early albums by Jan Jelinek and Pole, with a heavy voice with inflections of Italian bel canto. “Apart” is more in the vein of Burial, with that female vocal pitched up high, and both “Expect” and “Now Time” are dream-pop in which the song structure is a passing illusion, disappearing and leaving behind the dreamy feeling and the diffuse trace of a voice fading in the distance, like the call of a fairy in the woods.